You may have a sense of echo this week, of a rewrite of Colossians. Marcion said it was originally written to Laodicea, nearby on the river, and our earliest copies omit the big port city of Ephesus as the recipients. If it were from Paul, why write as if he didn’t know them?
Listen to the smooth-talking sophistication of a cosmic Christ. Imagine yourselves called to a ministry of thinking big thoughts, worthy of the one sitting at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, over all the competing powers. Whatever your picture of Paul as appalling or appealing apostle, try to fit these words into the mind of the writer of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians…
We were dead in our finite mortal flesh, and have been given life in Christ, participation in something that outlives all that is death-dealing. Once outsiders, now we are insiders, citizens who belong in the company of the on in the heavenly places. We are bricks in a temple whose cornerstone is Jesus – no confusion here that the body is my individual body!
The writer who claims to be Paul alludes to some other account of his personal revelation of the mystery of this cosmic Christ. He aspires to communicate it, and for us all to learn it fully, in a mystical communion with a heavenly host.
Again, as last week, we read from the speculative to the ethical. What are you going to do about it? Within this cosmic Christ unity, are the depths as well as the heights, and our character building choices matter. Imagine such an alternate way of living in community, and the witness it would bear to the world.
If the writer is to affirm such a community, the corollary is an enumeration of what does not belong or fit in the picture. Fornication, impurity – more powerfully greed, rooted in idolatry – don’t belong in this vision. That ‘children of light’ pietism took a beating in my UCC circles in recent decades, particularly as it revisits the household codes of patriarchy. At least the writer is self-aware enough to acknowledge the argument from analogy between cultural marriage customs and the experience of community and Christ.
So how does slavery and misogyny belong and fit in the picture, if fornication and drunkenness and lying doesn’t fit? It’s reassuring that the continuing conflict and struggle is acknowledged in the closing imagery of putting on armour, defensive as much as offensive, though it is hard to read it the same after 2000 years of Christian warriors since Constantine.
You know I steal lots of phrases from Ephesians in worship – and in my very understanding of our mission to ‘equip the saints.’ What can you glean?